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Fundraising Fundamentals, Section 1.6


Adapting and Modifying Practice for Your Institution

Fundraising is not an exact science. What works at one institution may fail at another. You will need to adapt and modify your practice to suit the individual characteristics, resources and audiences of your institution.

If you are in a start-up situation then do not be daunted by the success stories you hear from other institutions – the millions they have raised and the number of alumni they are engaged with. Instead, listen to how they achieved their success and consider how their activities might be adapted to your own institution.

You may hear their stories less often, but many institutions have suffered setbacks and failures. Listen to these stories and learn from their mistakes as well.

Organisations like CASE can help you find institutions that have a profile similar to your own. They can also broker an introduction to a more experienced director of development, who would be happy to share his or her experiences with you. Opportunities like the annual CASE conference are great places to hear about the experiences of others and to share your own experiences.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

The scale of activities must be proportionate to the size of your institution.

You cannot expect to immediately be up and running with multiple fundraising and communication channels. You need to roll out activities in a carefully considered manner, constantly reviewing and tweaking them until you find the right formula for your institution and stakeholders.

Listen to your stakeholders and develop an awareness of their attitudes around fundraising. It is likely that you will have to spend some time educating and engaging them before you can begin a fundraising campaign.

If you try to do too much too soon you will fail, as you will not only alienate your potential supporters, but you will spread your resources too thin.

Testing out new fundraising materials, fundraising activities or alumni services can be a great way of evolving an activity that will produce the optimal results for your institution. It is also a way of engaging your stakeholders in development efforts.

Know Your Context

Where you are fundraising can make a real difference to how you fundraise. How you ask a prospect for a major gift in the UK is likely to be very different from the process you would follow in Singapore or Kenya.

Attitudes toward philanthropy, money and being ‘asked’ can vary significantly among cultures. You need to amend your practice according to where it is being applied and respect cultural differences.

That said, the basic premise of identification, cultivation, solicitation and stewardship is universal. It is the application of these basic tenets that needs adaptation.

Action Items
  • After you outline your basic strategies and processes, make sure these are adapted for the individual characteristics, resources, audiences and cultural context of your institution.
  • Prioritise activities. Determine which are the most relevant and feasible to generate some initial success, which can be scaled down to ‘test’ the idea and scale up later and which can wait for year two or three.
  • Find an industry partner outside your institution to have as a resource and offer a fresh perspective.

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Lessons from the success (and mistakes) of others

Try This

Instead of sending an e-newsletter or appeal to all 30,000 of your alumni the first time, send it to 1,000 and see what response you get. Then choose a manageable number to follow up with, and call to hear how your alumni are responding to the piece. Did they receive the piece? Was this helpful information? What would they like to know more about? What would they alter? Then tweak your future communications or activities accordingly.

Roger Makanjuola discusses corruption, maintaining integrity and the importance of gift accounting and stewardship.
Penne talks about development as storytelling and adapting lessons learned at CASE to her culture.
Penne talks about how her institution put lessons learned at CASE into a Belgian context.
Henrik Pompeius, head of development at Stockholm University, talks about how to respond to donor tax questions and make the case for giving.
McCallum describes key performance indicators that lead to giving, and how that informs his institution's cultivation model.
Sani Silvennoinen talks adapting cultivation and stewardship ideas to your institution.
Samir Savant, director of development at the Royal College of Music, discusses the challenges of being a specialist institution and on building relationships internally.
Savant talks about engaging alumni, particularly non-wealthy alumni.
Dugga talks about adapting a UK fundraising model to the Nigerian context and recognizing cultural sensitivities.